Detroit Free Press
BY BRIAN DICKERSON
DETROIT FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
Poor Rick Snyder! Nearly a year after emerging from corporate obscurity to claim a resounding electoral victory last November, Michigan’s earnest new governor is learning the hard way what the elegantly appointed bordello known as the Michigan Legislature is all about.
It’s not about Democrats and Republicans.
It’s not about the contest between those who want to empower government and those who want to strangle it in the bathtub.
And it’s certainly not about people who share a common vision but have principled differences about how to move the state forward.
It’s about the cold, hard cash on which re-election campaigns depend — and Michigan’s youthful accountant-in-chief just got sucker-punched by an old man who’s tossing it around like a sailor on shore leave.
Welcome to the state capital, Gov. Snyder. Some of your fellow Republicans have got a bridge they’d like to sell you, but you probably can’t afford it.
The top bidder
Matty Moroun can.
In the 2009-10 campaign cycle, the Ambassador Bridge owner and members of his family distributed $1.5 million to state and congressional candidates situated to block construction of a second, publicly owned span between Detroit and Windsor.
Sen. Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek, and Sen. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, were among the more notable beneficiaries of Moroun family largesse; together, they provided the decisive votes to kill a bill authorizing a new bridge in Thursday’s climactic vote in the Senate Economic Development Committee.
The Republican Senate Campaign Committee, which promotes the re-election of all GOP state senators, got $30,000, further dampening Snyder’s hopes of assembling a pro-bridge majority in his party’s own caucus.
And the windfall continues; in the first seven months of this (off-campaign!) year, Moroun and his family funneled another $55,000 to legislative political action committees.
It will be another few days before the Secretary of State’s office reveals what Moroun added to his PAC total in the last 90 days. And we won’t learn how much he gave to individual lawmakers’ campaigns this year until next Jan. 31, because his beneficiaries designed Michigan’s toothless disclosure laws, and who among that bunch would want constituents to know how much they got from Moroun before they cast their votes on the new bridge?
Rigging the game
The relentlessly upbeat Snyder is much too polite to call fellow Republicans out for this legalized prostitution; he’s more inclined to say that the democratic process is a messy one, and that Moroun is only exercising his constitutional right to express his opinion with bank drafts.
But I can’t for the life of me understand the practical difference between rigging the game with illegal bribes and rigging it with campaign contributions that are neither effectively regulated nor disclosed in a timely way, except that the former gets you a prison cell and the latter wins you grudging admiration for knowing how to cheat the way gentlemen do.
In any event, Snyder can no longer delude himself about what’s going on in his own party’s caucus rooms, where, on this issue at least, politics and principle have long since given way to payola.
If he and his corporate supporters want a new bridge, they’re either going to have to embarrass some fellow Republicans, or take a number and get in line with the other johns.